Harkness v. United States, No. 12-5711 (6th Cir. 2013)Annotate this Case
Harkness, a reserve Commander in the Navy Chaplain Corps, was denied a promotion to the rank of Captain by an annual selection board. The Secretary of the Navy denied his request to convene a special selection board (SSB) to review that decision. Harkness filed suit, claiming that promotion policies and procedures for chaplains violated the Establishment Clause. The district court dismissed, citing failure to exhaust administrative remedies required by 10 U.S.C. 14502(g). The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that non-promoted officers must first petition the Secretary to convene an SSB. The Secretary must weigh certain factors, including whether an administrative error caused the original selection board not actually to consider the officer, or whether a material error caused the original board to mistakenly fail to recommend promotion. If the Secretary determines that an SSB is not warranted, the officer can seek review of that denial in federal court. The language of Harkness’s request apparently challenged only the composition of the board and fell short of giving the Secretary a meaningful opportunity to respond to Harkness’s constitutional contention.